Many businesses extoll the virtues of ‘agile’ working. But for those companies that have never encountered this term in practice, it can feel like some sort of mythical way of operating your business.
Some believe that the term relates to flexible hours for staff, or hot desking, or even remote working. The fact is that these things can be true of agile working, but they don’t define it. So, is agile working anything more than a buzz phrase used by senior management?
In reality, yes, it can be used as meaningless jargon – but if it is deployed effectively it can potentially be a huge benefit to your business. In this article, we will take a closer look at exactly what is meant by the term, examine how it could look in your organisation, and establish whether it is the right option for you.
A definition of agile working
If an organisaiton is interested in deploying agile working as a part of its day-to-day activities, it is important to be able to define it effectively. But this isn’t actually as simple as it seems. The Agile Organisation says that agile working “incorporates dimensions of time and place flexibility, but also involves doing work differently focusing on performance and outcomes. In fact agile is more than working in a different way, it is being and behaving differently.”
However, it is also important to recognise that one of the challenges in defining agile working comes from its very nature. The fact that it is not a specific, prescriptive set of rules and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that allows agile working to be implemented, ensures that it is fairly difficult to pin down.
What are the benefits of agile working?
Many companies are choosing to embrace agile working. This has been the case especially since the pandemic, as this has naturally accelerated the process of organisational changes, as companies have looked for ways they can modify how they work in order to be able to compete effectively in a dramatically changed economic landscape.
There are actually a huge range of benefits for embracing remote working whether you are a small or large company. Some of the key benefits include:
- Increased responsiveness – agile working can encourage businesses to embrace ways of working that focus on doing everything they can to be productive and speed up response. This can have revolutionary benefits for your customer service. For example, moving away from the model of rigid 9 to 5 hours for your office can allow you to provide customer service at a much broader range of the day.
- Improved productivity – so much of agile working is about finding the most efficient and effective ways of working. Rather than relying on traditional methods of working, staff can operate in a way that is actually better for them. This can have dramatic productivity benefits.
- Attract staff – businesses are increasingly moving forwards with a more flexible approach as this is something that has been demanded by employees. This can make it an interesting selling point to offer prospective employees.
Agile working vs. flexible working
It is also important to note that the terms ‘agile’ working and ‘flexible’ working are sometimes used as synonyms – but that in reality there are some key differences. However, it is important not to confuse the two, as rolling them out can have different consequences for your business.
Flexible working is generally considered to be centered around employees and how they operate. It provides staff with the opportunity to work whenever and wherever is most convenient to them. Many companies have executed a fairly soft launch of flexible working as a part of the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Agile working refers more to the business as a whole. This might include harnessing technology that allows multiple staff to work on the project from different locations.
More than just where you work
As we have established, agile working is about more than just where and when employees work. Those companies that want to take a truly ‘agile’ approach to how their business operates need to focus on a wide range of different aspects of the organisation. In short, it is argued that companies do not need to be as rigid as they were in the past.
“Modern business leaders know that every member of a team is different,” says Evie Jenkins of ClearHub, a company specialising in agile staff recruitment. “Each has a specific expertise, making them leaders in their own roles. Seniority and leadership qualities should no longer be defined by how big someone’s team is, but by how effective they are in their specified role; their experience and knowledge, and thought leadership.”
For many organisations this means embracing a very different type of work environment. And of course, that isn’t going to suit everyone.
The challenges of agile working
For some businesses, agile working is not an ideal solution. Moving to this way of working can mean altering the working culture, and this can actually have a negative impact on some organisations. Additionally, this style of working can lead to staff operating in isolation more than working as a team.